One Lucky Charm
Watching the clock. It’s digital face. One minute, ten fifty-eight. Another minute, ten fifty-nine. My foot bounces against the tile floor. Up, down, up, down, my knee going fast. Eleven O'clock, finally.
“All right, time’s up. Put your pencils down and flip your paper over.”
I start down the first row picking up the tests and pencils while the students shuffle out of the room. They are just as eager as I to escape. Nobody likes to do a practice ACT test on a Saturday. I was the lucky volunteer, drafted to be the test administrator since I am the newest teacher at Greenville Public High School.
I’d been teaching much longer than just this past year though, as I started way back in graduate school as a teacher’s assistant.
Those were some of the best years of my life! I tap the collected papers on the desk to align them all. Back then, my mornings were spent in the classroom, preparing slides and grading tests. Afternoons were designated to the lab processing relics. My summers were spent on digs.
I’d love to go back to Scotland, Germany, Egypt, and China. Anyplace. And I mean anyplace, but Greenville, Texas.
Even now, looking out at the East Texas piney woods through the windows, I can see the craggy, rolling hills of the highlands instead of scrub pines and dust.
I have got to stop daydreaming. I’m here. That’s all there is to it.
I place all the test papers into the official packet, sealing it to be dropped in the mail to the grading center later. The pencils, I gather in one fist and band together with a rubber band pulled from the desk drawer. I leave the bundle on the desk and grab my purse and water bottle from where I had tucked them in the desk’s cubby first thing this morning.
Pulling keys out, I look around the classroom one more time to make sure everything is in order; nothing out of place. I flick the light switch down and lock the door. The scent of pine-sol cleaner and pencil shavings is obliterated by the oppressive humidity the moment I leave the building.
The apartment complex pool will be packed this afternoon thanks to this early and extraordinarily warm spring we are having. But, I plan to make a refreshing margarita to be a salve to my restless soul. It’ll also make the task of grading essays a whole lot more fun. I chuckle to myself. If only these high schoolers knew what it took for me to get through their homework.
I had moved into the apartment complex eleven months ago, after living in my grandma’s house for a short time.
I grab my bag out of the car and head to my apartment. I consider this complex a transient place of existence. It sits not too far off the highway, near shopping and restaurants, is ten years old, and costs a whopping eight hundred a month. Some studios come furnished (one wasn’t available when I moved in) and there seems to be in inordinate amount of construction and oilfield workers in residence. East Texas is a booming area, and the renters at The Village seem to change every six months or so.
Inside my one bedroom studio, boxes are still stacked in places, and working as my temporary furniture.
One stack for a coffee table. One stack for a nightstand, and one stack for an entranceway table.
I dump my bag and shoes, and go into the bedroom to get changed into my swimsuit. After slathering on some sunscreen, I make my drink. I’m ready for an afternoon of grading papers in the hot Texas sun.
With my beach towel over one arm and my tote bag full of student papers over my shoulder, I make my way to the apartment pool. In my hand is my extra large tumbler filled with a double margarita.
The scene at the pool is typical for a spring Saturday in Texas. There are kids swimming, parents sipping beverages or joining their kids in the pool.
There is one unoccupied lounger awkwardly sandwiched between a family and the barbecue pit. It’s my lucky day.
I spread my towel on it and bring out my clipboard and pen. Grabbing the first essay from the pile, I read: Title: Girls in Beowulf, By: Olivia Johnson. This will definitely require tequila. I take a healthy pull of my margarita through my straw before uncapping my red pen.
Three hours later, my drink is empty; I have even sucked down the last melting ice cubes during my intensely focused grading session. I stretch and put the clipboard in my tote bag.
Things have begun to quiet down with the oncoming dinner hour. Only myself and one other couple with their baby linger in the pool area. I close my eyes for a few moments. Suddenly, there are more raised voices and subsequent splashes that herald the end of my quiet pool time.
“Hey, Charlotte! How you doin’?”
The question pops me straight out of my light doze. It’s Tyler, my hottie divorcee neighbor with the seven-year-old twins. He also just happens to be an old acquaintance from high school.
Two years ahead of me and I was pretty sure I wasn’t even a blip on his radar back then. A popular high school student, he’d been a star wide receiver for the football team and dated quite a few different cheerleaders if I remember correctly.
I’d been neither nerd nor popular, instead spending my free time in the library reading historical romances. Avoiding teenage drama like the plague.
Tyler is currently unloading “fixins” (as they say here in Texas) for a barbecue: lettuce, mustard, meat, chips, and some type of dip.
“Oh. I’m good.” I answer, hoping that’ll be the end of our small talk.
Awkward small chats have become routine for Tyler and I since I moved in: at the mailboxes, in the laundry room, and this spring - at the pool.
“Do you want a burger? We’ve got plenty.”
I turn to him from where my gaze has been watching his kids swimming and splashing in the pool. It still seems a foreign concept to me how someone my age, that I’d gone to school with, has a pair of seven-year-olds. I mean, I’m not that old.
I study him for a few seconds while I work out an excuse to decline his offer politely.
Tyler has blondish-brown hair and the most luminous green eyes. A smile hides behind his ever-present close-cropped beard. I know enough about Tyler to know his divorce left him working two jobs as a county sheriff during the weekdays and a carpenter/handyman on the weekends (when he doesn’t have the kids). Both occupations keep him in fine physical shape. I admire his muscular shoulders in the gray t-shirt he is wearing.
“So, a burger?” he asks again. The light in his eyes says he knows I had been checking him out.
“No, thank you for the offer though.” I swing my legs over the lounger and slip my feet into my flip-flops.
“Ah. Don’t be like that Charlotte. It’s damn near seven and I know for a fact you been down here grading papers all afternoon. One burger and some company ain’t gonna kill you.”
I pull my shorts and t-shirt on over my bikini. My stomach chooses that moment to growl - loudly.
I remember that worshipping the sun and sipping a margarita had overruled my need for a grocery run. I’ve got an empty refrigerator and meager offerings in my pantry. There is literally nothing but questionable lettuce and rice to eat upstairs in my apartment.
The sizzle of the meat hitting the grill is as good as Palov’s bell to my tongue. I start salivating.
“Well, if you really don’t mind…” I tell Tyler.
He jumps on my acquiescence, “No! Come over here and sit down in the shade for a while. I got drinks there in that cooler - help yourself.”
I fold my towel up and leave it sitting on the lounger. Walking over to the round table with the sun umbrella that Tyler claimed as his own, I lift up the lid on the cooler. Fruit juices for the kids, a few bottles of water and beer. I grab one of the waters.
Tyler comes over from managing the grill and plucks one of the beers out for himself.
“Oh, I think there’s one or two of them lime-a-rita things in here…” He shifts ice around and triumphantly pulls a can out and offers it to me, “One of my buddy’s girlfriends drank a few too many and forgot the rest.”
I take it from his outstretched hand, our fingers brushing in the icy condensation of the can.
“Thank you. Never had one.” I pop the top and take a sip. Very refreshing.
“Anything I can do to help?” I ask.
“Nah, the burgers will be done in just a few.” He sits down across from me and I watch fascinated as his t-shirt stretches across his chest muscles. I quickly look down and away, taking another gulp of the limeade.
“Tell me a little about yourself, Charlotte.”
I like that he is straightforward about our practically-stranger status. The only bits of info I know about him are either old high school info or the little bit I pieced together from our short comings-and-goings.
“Well, you know. I moved back last summer to be closer to my grandmother. She’s over at Sunrise Valley assisted living…” I don’t want to get too deep into that, so I rush on, “…And I teach at the high school - ninth grade literature and history.”
“Oh, wow a dual major, huh?”
I am happy he skipped over asking about my grandmother. That’d be a real conversation downer.
“Yeah. I did undergraduate work at A&M, but really found my passion at UNC. I completed my dissertation there, and then went on to work for the University of Glasgow… And oh gawd, I sound like a complete conceited arsehole when I say all that.”
He laughs. I smile at him uncertainly. Sometimes I really hate to lay out my history like that. On paper, I see the academic accomplishments that so many people drool over as footnotes to the fieldwork, where I really like to be. In any case, it comes out completely nerdy.
“That is a resume I’ll never be able to compete with. Just a good ‘ole high school diploma here, few years in the army, then graduated from East Texas Police Academy last year.”
“And this our life, exempt from public haunt, Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,
Sermons in stones, and good in everything…Shakespeare,” I finish, “knew there is more to an education than just paper diplomas.”
He’s looking at me like I might have two heads. I take a sip of the lime-a-rita. Good work, Ivey. Alienate him with your high-falutin’ book quotes.
I push the self-criticism out of my head - it sounds too much like my mother.
“Well, Shakespeare certainly knew a thing or two.” He gets up at that unobjectionable observation and lifts the lid on the grill.
“You sure did save me, Charlotte.”
“Huh?” I ask, not following.
“Well, they never sell packages of just three burgers, it’s always four or eight. So with my odd numbered little crew, I usually am the one doubling up on the patties. Not good for my cholesterol. Or so my doctor says.”
I momentarily fumble for an appropriate response. “You’re welcome?”
He laughs and sits back down. I glow from the inside with the knowledge that my social bumbling doesn’t put him off. It’s nice to know I can still charm a man with conversation.